Charlottesville, Power, and the Beatitudes

This summer I’ve spent a little time reading in and about the Beatitudes and reflecting on how they shape a more faithful view of enacting power. I was reading Darrel Johnson’s (2015) book on the beatitudes the weekend of the Charlottesville event when my Twitter feed exploded with updates. I went from reading and reflecting on what it means to be captive and captivated by the kingdom to watching clips of people being beaten and mowed down by a car. I was overcome, and I wept. I was overcome by the hatred, but I was also deeply moved by the clergy who gathered together to promote peace—followers of Jesus standing peacefully in solidarity and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”

Since then, I have heard a lot of political rhetoric and blame that just adds to the sadness. So much of what was happening in Charlottesville is a grasp for power, a grasp for power that is more connected to personal fear and the oppression of others and has nothing to do with human flourishing. In a word, it is evil; it flies in the face of the life of Christ and must be named as such.

Beatitudes and the Kingdom of God

In reading the Beatitudes, it is clear that followers of Jesus are different, kind of a peculiar, people. For starters, the Beatitudes are not a list of different attributes for different people. They are the attributes of a person who has been taken hold of by the kingdom of God. When the kingdom of God captures our imagination and our deepest sense of what it means to be a human, we recognize our poverty of spirit before the wonderful grace of God, and this poverty of spirit breeds a humility within that accepts and handles power with caution and care, knowing our own brokenness. We become those who mourn for the brokenness of this world and for the oppression of others in solidarity with our Father, whose heart breaks at the suffering of his children.

Our leadership is then shaped by that sensitivity. We become gentle toward others, even those who look, act, and think differently than we do. This gentleness (or meekness) does not go silent amidst injustice, but speaks the truth in love. We hunger and thirst for righteousness (justice), knowing that in the fullness of time we will be satisfied. We become a people of mercy that feel deeply for the victim and for the brokenness of the offender and engage both with purity of heart, a kind of integrity that removes personal agendas and needs for recognition and follows in the self-donating way of the cross. We become peacemakers, like the clergy who gathered peacefully in Charlottesville to make a gentle yet firm statement that they are a people of love. And finally, as followers of Jesus, we may be persecuted for the sake of justice. This is not the same as being “persecuted” for being brash, opinionated, or socially awkward.

Beatitudes and the Will of God

I believe that our roles in Christian education are vocational. They are callings that we are gifted for and that God uses us in, despite, or because of, our brokenness. Any power that comes with our roles must be stewarded in submission to the will of God. The grasping for power, prestige, or position are more about our egos than about the kingdom of God. I don’t believe it matters how craftily we cloak these grasps for power in the name of politics, organizational success, or even the church. They are not the vocational response to God we are called to fulfill, and I believe they run counter to the work of the kingdom.

As we move from believing in Jesus to following in the Jesus way, and as our lives become filled with the Spirit, we manifest the above-mentioned beatitudes. The beatitudes run totally counter to what our culture values in a successful and powerful person. And I think the final beatitude is directly connected to that reality. As we walk as people of the kingdom (see attributes above) we are going to cause disruption to the system (“world”), and that disruption is going to frustrate people.

Bending toward Justice

Sadly, a significant portion of the church has decided to enact the kingdom on their own by grasping at power and enforcing kingdom values on everyone. And this has caused frustration, but I do not believe this is the persecution mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. I believe the persecution is because we have taken up our cross and followed Jesus! As the Holy Spirit convicts us, we are hungering and thirsting for justice, and doing so with gentleness and humility, trusting that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” (King, 1964).

As our schools are reconvening and students and teachers come back to another year of learning, my deep hope is that we will have the courage to submit our plans and passions to the work of the Spirit, that we will allow our lives to become “beatitudinal,” pursing justice and mercy with gentleness and humility. May our enacting of power be one more step in fulfilling our school’s mission and vision in the forming of a peculiar people.

– David Loewen

References:
Johnson, Darrell W. 2015. The Beatitudes: Living in sync with the reign of God. Regent College Publishing, Vancouver.

King, Martin Luther. 1964. Baccalaureate sermon at commencement exercises of Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut.

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